Action to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in Scotland is essential if we are to protect lives. It is important that when we do this, we do what we can to understand and minimise any unintended impacts on health, particularly for the people who are most marginalised and excluded. Taking a human rights based approach to planning the response to, recovery from and services for the COVID-19 pandemic can help us do that. Today, on behalf of a multi-agency, cross-sector group, Public Health Scotland has published a report setting out how that might be done. It is hoped that this will help prevent further increases in inequality in our communities.

Health inequalities are not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted that many people in our communities experience disproportionately worse health and wellbeing due to poverty, inequality and disadvantage. During the pandemic, this has shown itself in the increased incidence of COVID-19 and the negative impacts of the control measures for people who are marginalised, excluded and who experience, often multiple, disadvantage.

These impacts include increased mental health problems, economic hardship, increased exclusion from mainstream services, a lack of access to sources of support and information, and difficulty acting on the health advice due to their circumstances. Housing, income and employment, poor health and/or caring responsibilities are examples of areas of their lives that may be affected. These non-viral impacts may be continuous and long term as the pandemic impacts on the social and economic recovery and future delivery of public services.

A number of human rights can be affected by the measures put in place to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health, a right to housing, work and education, food, safety and security. Human rights based working; including better participation through lived experience, the AAAQ Framework and PANEL principles, provide a basis to plan and deliver policies and services that support people working across all areas of public health in their duties to promote equality and reduce inequalities.

Claire Sweeney, Director of Place and Wellbeing at Public Health Scotland said:

"Public Health Scotland is committed to embedding an equality and human rights approach across the work we do and collaborating with our partners to do the same. We are working to reduce inequalities and the occurrence of multiple deprivation, marginalisation and exclusion, and to ensure that people who do experience these are able to access the services and support that they need."

Claire Stevens, Chief Executive at Voluntary Health Scotland and Secretary to the Cross Party Group on Health Inequalities said:

"COVID-19 has exposed and amplified the scale of inequalities and their impact on health, above all for those who were already marginalised from mainstream services or experiencing multiple deprivation. A rights based approach to social and economic renewal and to the recovery of services is crucial if we are to prevent the gap widening even further. Throughout the pandemic the voluntary and community sector has continued to stay close to, and work hard for, those in greatest need, so we commend the new report and Public Health Scotland's commitment to a cross-sectoral, partnership approach to the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead."

View the Inclusion health principles and practice: mitigating the impact of COVID-19 report.

Last updated: 06 October 2022